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A Descriptive Catalogue of the Medieval Manuscripts in the Library of Peterhouse, Cambridge

ISBN: 9781843844419
Publisher: D. S. Brewer
Publication Date: 2016-08-19
Number of pages: 384
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  • Regular price $165.00

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Description


Founded in 1284 by Hugh of Balsham, bishop of Ely, Peterhouse is the University of Cambridge's oldest college. The earliest surviving version of its statutes, from 1344, declares that its primary function was to forward the studyof theology. Before the Reformation it was a small community, the statutes prescribing a master and fourteen scholars. And yet by the late Middle Ages it had built up a substantial reference library, out of all proportion to this small fellowship. Today the college collection contains 277 complete manuscripts; in addition, there are more than three hundred fragments in or taken from the bindings of early printed books. Almost all of the surviving books were at the College before the Reformation, so that the present collection represents the remains of its medieval library, not the accumulation of modern donations. This gives the collection a very particular character and interest. Not many of the books contain extensive or important illumination, and this absence has been exacerbated by massive vandalism apparently mainly perpetrated in the late sixteenth century. Neither does the collection containa high proportion of rare or unique texts, but rather many geared to the European university curriculum of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. This means that it is dominated by works of Aristotle in Latin and commentarieson them, by the philosophical theology of Peter Lombard, Thomas Aquinas, Albert the Great and John Duns Scotus, by Justinian's Corpus Iuris Ciuilis and the Corpus Iuris Canonici and their commentators, and by medical texts. Thefounder is said to have bequeathed to the College 'many books of theology and some representing the other branches of knowledge'. None of these can be identified today, but in fact the history of the library is fairly opaque before c. 1400. The earliest surviving account roll is from 1374/5 and the earliest library-catalogue from 1418. Nearly all of the books were acquired by donation, and it is mainly by connecting the books to their donors that one cantrack the growth of the collection prior to the early fifteenth century. Fortunately, Peterhouse books are rich in information about their previous owners, particularly those who brought or gave them to the College, thanks in some measure to the habit of recording the gifts by a pious inscription in them. About sixty names of owners and donors appear in the surviving books and donors appear in the surviving books and documents.

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